That's what President Franklin Roosevelt called the Museum of Modern Art when it first opened at its current digs, 11 West 53rd St. in New York City, on May 10, 1939. "Crush individuality in society and you crush art as well,” Roosevelt said in the radio address. “In encouraging the creation and enjoyment of beautiful things we are furthering democracy itself. That is why this museum is a citadel of civilization." Take that, fascists!
The opening exhibition, entitled "Art in Our Time," was timed to coincide with the influx of tourists to the World’s Fair in nearby Flushing, Queens. Planned as a summary of modern art since the late 1800s, it included pieces by many artists that still make the MOMA a popular destination: Alexander Calder, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Duchamp, and Picasso to name a few.
MOMA has a very nice online archive of its art. I found a New York Times article from 1939, in which the museum’s first director, Alfred Barr Jr., chose some examples from "Art in Our Time" that he believed were good examples of modern art. I can’t reproduce the page here, but I found most of the pieces on the MOMA website, like Brancusi’s “Bird in Space” (right).
Click through for the rest, with Barr’s remarks.